Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rena Doll

Rena Doll

It took many weeks (and some expletives), but I finally fished what I think was my most difficult and most meaningful knitting craft: a doll for my very special (and first!) niece.

It's made with Rowan Purelife organic yarn, which:
  1. isn't easy to find online
  2. isn't easy on the wallet
  3. isn't easy to knit with
But I think the results were worth it. And, I've scoured eBay and seem to have landed some more yarn for future dolls.
I used some of my other yarn to make ruffle pants and a tankini. The pattern, from Susan B Anderson's Itty Bitty Toys book, called for a cute dress. But my attempt at the dress failed 3 times so one night I just created my own simple top.

The doll, in honesty, is riddled with errors and imperfections, but it was a labor of love and I kind of had a hard time packing her up for Christmas and shipping her off up north. I may just have to make one for myself one of these days...after the handful of toys I owe the boys. (Can y'all stop having babies so I can knit for my own kids? Just kidding!)

Some of the things I learned were how to make:
a belly button/nose
reasonably symmetric embroidered  face (I came a long way from the face of the bear I recently made)
knee bend

And one element that was at first the most frustrating, but turned into the most fun, the hair:

Which brings me to the name of the doll.

I usually "name" the knitted toy after the child who is to receive it (outside of Tortellini the elefante), but it sort of seems odd to have a doll with your own name. Also, while struggling with the hair late one night, I had a random flashback to sitting with my friend Rena at her house.

Rena was my elementary school friend who had cancer and unfortunately died when I was in 5th grade. She didn't spend a lot of time at school, so most of our time together was at her house. I have so many physical memories of Rena...her diminutive and sort of muted voice, big front teeth, enormous eyes full of hope, wispy remnants of hair...I also have close to my heart specific moments in time we shared together: playing with her golden retriever who at one point bowled her over, and the two of us laughed so hard we had tears streaming down our faces...watching a silly Police Academy movie while sitting on the couch together...making a cartoon book filled with ornate flowers and pastoral scenes...but one that stuck out to me was one day we were playing with dolls at her house. She told me that she liked to practice braiding on one of her dolls for when her hair grew back. That moment stuck with me, but was hidden in my gallery of memories until the one night I was loop stitch knitting this doll's hair. Out of nowhere I remembered that moment--I remember it because even at my young age, I remember wondering if her hair would ever grow back, not realizing in a matter of months I would be walking by her casket placing a rose on her belly. Ugh. For whatever reason, those historical memories of Rena, specifically her hope of braiding her own hair, made me realize that there was no way I was letting this doll go bald. And thanks to a little extra inspiration (and YouTube), I figured it out.
So this is my Rena doll. I'm sure there will be more to come, and with each assembly, I'll be sure to knit a few more memories of Rena into each stitch.

Epilogue of sorts. I decided to see if I could find a picture of Rena on the Internet. Her death was long before Al Gore invented the whole virtual storage space thing, but I know a lot of archiving goes on. I don't have my childhood photos in Atlanta with me, so I was banking on someone posting an old picture of her. No such luck. I did find many stories about how Olympic figure skater Paul Wylie never got his chance to give Rena a skating lesson...and then I also stumbled upon a site called "Practice for a Cure" The mission is this: that through our efforts, on the yoga mat, on the meditation cushion, one pose at a time, one breath at a time, we might alleviate (‘cure’)  the suffering of all beings. Wouldn't you know it, through my search for "Rena Parab cancer", I was brought to Practice for a Cure's 2010 dedication page (linked above). And there her name was...immediately following was...you'll never believe it...ERIC HEINTZ. I don't know if someone we know donated to this charity who knew Rena and knows my husband, but what are the chances???

Sometimes life's mysteries are just too good...


  1. today's post touched my heart in ways I can't quite put into words. thank you

  2. first i was just going to say, wow, you are a very talented knitter. that is an incredible doll. but then after reading about your friend, i have to say, that's heartbreaking. how sad to lose a friend at such a young age. i'm glad you gave her new life in that sweet doll!

  3. Aside from the fact that I am in awe of your talent with knitting needles, I am touched by your Rena doll. She has so much personality! I think Rena's family would feel honored to know that you remembered their remarkable little girl like that.

  4. Oh. The Paul Wylie article made me cry, and the Cure Dedication to Eric was just plain amazing!

  5. She's absolutely beautiful and her namesake makes her so much more special.

  6. I always remember sitting I her room in third or fourth grade. She was giving me violin lessons on he band new instrument. Sometimes I'm tempted to send her mother a card so she knows that she isn't the only one who still misses Rena.

  7. Wow, what a beautiful dedication and that epilogue at the end just gave me chills! Amazing.

  8. I don't know if you'll ever see this comment, but I had to reach out...... I found your blog by searching for Rena Parab as well. I can't imagine this is about any other young girl named Rena who died so long ago and so young..... I lived in Westborough at the time, and Rena and I were so, so close. We even had the best friends necklaces...remember those? I moved to Virginia in the first or second grade, and will never forget getting the phone call that Rena had died. So terribly devastating to an 10ish year old who is so far away and couldn't be there to mourn and say goodbye. I think of her so often, which is what caused me to search today and stumble upon this post. What a beautiful tribute this Rena doll is... I hope her family knows that she is not forgotten so many years later.

    I wonder if we knew each other??

    1. What is your name? we must know each other because I lived in Westborough, and my family still does. I am going to try to locate you from your blog (I don't see an identifier). SMALL WORLD! Were you in Fales with her, too?